God’s Early Warning Signs for Temptation
It sounds like something from a science fiction movie plot, but an Early Heart Attack Warning app is in the final stages of development. Doctors will eventually be able to embed a sensor the size of a grain of sand in the bloodstream of at-risk patients. As the sensor detects changes in blood vessel cells, it will signal the patient’s cell phone, alerting him or her to seek medical care before the heart attack can take place. Temptation to sin is similar to that heart attack waiting to happen. It may have small beginnings, which left unchecked, can build in intensity and pressure to a full-blown event.
If we’ll pay attention, God gives us early warning signs that we are progressing toward yielding to temptation. It’s easier to stop in the early phases. But as we allow ourselves to be drawn further into temptation, it becomes more difficult, though not impossible, to avert sin and its consequences.
Proverbs 7:6-27 illustrates the progressive nature of temptation through the story of the “youth who lacked judgement ” Although the sin in the proverb is sexual in nature, the principles apply to any sin that entices our flesh – from overeating to indulging in gossip. Let’s learn from the youth of Proverbs 7 and look at the early warning signs of temptation and the way of escape.
Early Warning Sign #1 – You are in close proximity to temptation
The easiest way to avoid temptation is to stay away from it! Or if you are in it, remove yourself from it. Proverbs 7:7,8 describes the “youth who lacked judgement” “…[who] was going down the street, near her [the prostitute’s] corner, walking along in the direction of her house.”
Whether we are simply curious or we mistakenly believe we are invulnerable to a particular type of temptation, it’s never a good idea to venture into the enemy’s territory. I heard of a man who was accountable to his pastor to not purchase gasoline at a certain chain of fuel/convenience outlets. Why? Because that chain sold pornography and the man knew he needed to avoid that type of temptation.
Perhaps your problem is not pornography, but you do struggle with repeatedly overeating a certain type of food. Despite your best intentions, you always eat the entire container. Remove yourself from the temptation or in this case, remove the temptation from your surroundings. Don’t bring it into your home.
Avoidance is the easiest phase of temptation to shut down. If you continue to stay close to temptation, it will become more difficult to resist – particularly if the timing of your exposure increases your vulnerability to it.
Early Warning Sign #2 – Timing issues increase your vulnerability to temptation
There are times when we feel weak in the face of temptation. Verse 9 describes the next phase of temptation: “He ventured out “at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark set in.”
We learn important truths from this piece of information. First, darkness can be a cover for dark deeds. If you would be ashamed for others to know what you’re contemplating, that’s God’s early warning system telling you to go no further.
Second, we each have times of increased vulnerability. Certain times of the day (or month) can be problematic for us. We may tend to make poor choices when we are tired, hungry, angry, hot, cold and so forth. Guard against temptation at these vulnerable times.
At this point in the story, the youth has put himself in the proximity of temptation at a vulnerable time of day. He’s in the wrong place, at the wrong time… and with bad company.
Early Warning Sign #3 – You keep company with those who enable you to act on temptation
Verse 13 goes on to paint a picture of sin (the prostitute) brazenly taking hold of the youth. She pulls out all the stops in encouraging him to make wrong choices. First Corinthians 15:33 warns us, “Bad company corrupts good character.” How do we know if someone is bad company? Anyone who encourages us to go against what we know to be right is bad company for us.
Do you have a circle of friends who always end up gossiping? Are you in business dealings with those who encourage you to misrepresent your products or services? If so, it’s time to change those friends and business associates. If you want to live a righteous life, keep company with righteous people, people who encourage you to make wise choices. The youth of our proverb is in bad company. In the final phase of temptation, the rationalization for consummating the sin begins.
Early Warning Sign #4 – You rationalize or justify why this temptation is okay
Verse 21 marks a critical point in the story: “With persuasive words, she (the prostitute) led him astray.” Once you’ve begun rationalizing it is very difficult and painful to pull back from temptation. Why? Because rationalizing pulls us in the direction of fulfilling what was already held in our minds. If it is in our minds, it is as if we have already begun to experience it.
Pay close attention to your thoughts and self-talk. If you are rationalizing things that you know to be contrary to God’s Word, get help! Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Once you’ve started justifying yourself, you’re in for a fight. And you need God’s help to do it.
God is Faithful
God has given us ways to recognize and avoid the progression of temptation. We can pay attention to our proximity, the timing, our company, and our rationalization. He has also promised us with regard to temptation that He “will never let us down; He’ll never let us be pushed past our limits; he’ll always be there to help us come through it” (MSG). Regardless of where you find yourself in the cycle of temptation, you can choose the way out!
Wise choices will watch over you. Pro 2:11 NLT
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